Tarrytown Fire Hydrants — Public or Private?

As reported in most local news outlets, a fire broke out at 119 Cobb Lane on Saturday morning, November 24th, close to 8:30 a.m. Firefighters arrived with dispatch only to find that several fire hydrants in proximity to the house in question were dry or out of service.

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Top: New fire hydrant being installed at the top of Cobb Lane. Bottom: Private hydrant on Wilson Park Drive had “Out of Service” tag on it for many years.

According to the reports, much anxious scrambling took place until satisfactory connections were finally made in Wilson Park and on North Broadway. As each report came in, it became apparent that serious misunderstandings about responsibility for Village fire hydrant maintenance were afoot.

In a Tuesday, November 27th special meeting at Village Hall, Mayor Fixell and the Trustees met with several dozen affected citizens to begin to not only assign responsibility for what could have been a disaster, but to zero in what had to be done immediately to ensure that the problem not recur there or elsewhere in the Village. The basis of the problem, as outlined by the Mayor, was ownership of the hydrants. Is the hydrant owned by the Village or is it owned by a private landowner? If owned by the Village, flow and pressure are handled by the Water Department, and there are some 400 public hydrants in their purview. If it is privately owned, the next questions are: By whom? What is a private landowner supposed to do about the hydrant or hydrants? Private ownership is almost a thing of the past and is an outgrowth of when developers or landowners turned over roads and service hydrants to a new owner or owners. Presumably, those owners worked together with both the Village and their neighbors. But obviously as the years wear on, private ownership becomes subject to change and even carelessness. Documents can get lost or misinterpreted. In this case, emotions obviously ran high but there was no unanimity on where to assign blame.

Village Engineer Michael McGarvey indicated that all private facilities which impact on the services of a host Village should universally have updated records available, eliminating the slip-up that we’ve just witnessed on Cobb Lane. Mayor Fixell and Administrator McCabe have placed the problem on a top priority basis. McGarvey has already identified and begun work on five other privately-owned areas: Gracemere in the South End, Oak Avenue, Dixon Lane, Cobb Lane and Wilson Park Drive.

A letter from the Mayor has already gone to every Tarrytown address spelling out a full response program ensuring that all fire hydrants are operable and identified. An eleven-point program is described in the letter, with point #9 being particularly key to the entire process: "The Village Attorney will take the necessary actions to legally transfer control of the hydrant systems along all private roads to the Village."

One Tarrytowner summarized the situation by indicating that it was a very hard way to learn some serious information about one’s hometown. Residents feel badly about the fire damaged home. However, it could have been much worse — much worse, indeed.

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About the Author: Arnold Thiesfeldt